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As the new school year moves along, teachers start planning lessons, students read their syllabi and parents attend open houses to learn more about their child’s school.

Whether the open house is for prospective students and parents learning about a new potential school, or current families learning about their teachers for this year, open houses are an important tool for everyone.

Liza Adams, interim director of early childhood services at the Mandel Jewish Community Center in Beachwood, and Katherine Chapman, assistant director of enrollment management at Hathaway Brown in Shaker Heights, said their schools are welcoming back families to in-person open houses this year.

The Mandel JCC’s open house will be Nov. 4, and will have a hybrid approach this year. Classes will be divided in half, with in-person sessions welcoming one adult per child. There will also be a Zoom link available for each classroom for parents who are not able or do not feel comfortable attending in person.

Adams said the Mandel JCC initially hoped to offer the parent open house in the same format as it did prior to 2020, but had to reimagine it in a way that prioritized best practices for health and safety in the current environment related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regardless of how the Mandel JCC offers it, Adams said open houses are important for parents.

“Open houses allow parents the opportunity to be immersed in a deeper understanding of what is happening in their children’s learning environment, and perhaps of more significance, gives them a stronger foundation for meaningful conversations and connections with their children when reflecting on their time at school,” she said.

Just before the pandemic, Hathaway Brown moved to a model of having monthly parent previews in what Chapman described as a “small-group open house.” If a family is going through that process, they can do a one-on-one parent visit, or they can join one of the parent previews where there are normally two to five families. There will typically be a student panel and a group tour.

Last year, Hathaway Brown followed that model with virtual parent previews every month. But what they found, Chapman said, is that families still wanted to come on campus.

“In the spring, once families were accepted on weekends or after school hours, we were still having to tour them in-person,” she said. “So we like the idea that we’re moving back to the in-person mode so we can have that tour of the space in real life at the beginning of their process.”

This year, parent visits and parent previews at Hathaway Brown are in-person, but the school is still offering some virtual options at different points for families who would rather visit remotely.

Chapman said Hathaway Brown is still cautious and following all protocols in terms of masking, temperature checks and distancing.

“I think part of the magic of a school like Hathaway Brown is seeing things in action and seeing it alive,” Chapman said. “Giving tours last spring on the weekends and evenings was helpful. But when it’s empty, it’s not really showing all that the school has to offer.”

The Mandel JCC is also excited to welcome families back to in-person programming, Adams said.

“The J has provided ways to connect with parents and caregivers in-person throughout the past year with programs such as our outdoor Passover celebration,” Adams said. “Being able to have families in the classroom this fall is exciting as it allows them the opportunity to be immersed in a deeper understanding of what is happening in their children’s learning environment, whether physically present or in attendance virtually.”

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